Ontario Regional Chief responds to sentencing of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug Chief and Council



    TORONTO, March 18 /CNW/ - On March 17, 2007 in Thunder Bay,
Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug Chief Donny Morris, four Councillors, and a
community member were sentenced by Ontario Superior Court Justice Patrick
Smith to six month jail terms for contempt of an October 25, 2007 court
ruling.
    "I vehemently disagree with our people being jailed for defending their
constitutional rights. The sentencing of Chief Morris and Councillors
demonstrates all that is wrong with settling these issues through the Courts"
stated Ontario Regional Chief Angus Toulouse.
    Regional Chief Toulouse pointed out that from the very beginning Ontario
failed to consult and accommodate the concerns and interests of
Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI). They sold a mining license to junior mining
exploration company Platinex Inc. without any input or notification to the
First Nation. Ontario then failed to facilitate a consultative process with
the First Nation as is their responsibility. "Essentially, the First Nation
was relegated to dealing directly with Platinex Inc. with Ontario absent from
the discussion. The duty to consult with and accommodate First Nations
interests cannot be delegated to a third party, it is clearly the
responsibility of the Crown government" said Chief Toulouse.
    In July 2006, KI won an injunction against Platinex Inc. and the Judge
ordered that a consultation process be undertaken between KI, Ontario and
Platinex. The Regional Chief indicates that this was a positive step and
forced Ontario to take on a larger role in the process. However, at that point
positions had already hardened and frustration and disappointment had taken
hold.
    In October of 2007, the KI Chief and Council withdrew from the court
process citing their inability to cover the mounting legal costs crippling
their community. On October 25, 2007, Justice Smith passed down a ruling
allowing Platinex Inc. to enter KI territory on November 6 to begin phase I of
the exploratory drilling process. On November 6, Platinex representatives
arrived in KI and were prevented by Chief Morris and Council members from
entering the territory, eventually leaving the community the same day. As a
result of this action, Chief Morris, the four Councillors and one community
member were charged with being in contempt of a court ruling. "Yesterday,
Justice Smith talked about the importance of upholding the rule of law. I am
very disturbed by this as the rule of law should apply equally to everyone -
but it seems it does not apply to the Crown, as they continue to ignore
previous Supreme Court of Canada decisions requiring them to consult with and
accommodate the interests of First Nations. Consulting after the fact, or in
the middle of an already heated process as Ontario has tried to do in this
case is not effective. We see the sad results of this failure in this case"
said Chief Toulouse.
    "It is clear that this situation was mishandled by Ontario from the
beginning. This instance shows why the Crown must consult and hold fair
negotiations with First Nations at the outset as they are required by law to
do. It did not have to come to this. It is extremely disappointing and
unprecedented that a Chief and his Council sit in jail right now, while the
Ontario government claims to have clean hands" stated Chief Toulouse.
    The Regional Chief emphasized that the court system is the least
appropriate place to deal with complex reconciliation issues between First
Nations peoples and the Crown. "The court process criminalizes our people for
asserting their constitutional rights. On many occasions the Supreme Court of
Canada, and more recently, the Final Report of the Ipperwash Inquiry Report,
have pointed out that the path forward is negotiation and mediation" said
Chief Toulouse.
    The Regional Chief explained that the reason that many First Nations
pursue the settlement of their outstanding claims through the court system is
they are left with no alternative. Government inaction and unresponsiveness
often forces First Nations into the costly litigation process.
    Regional Chief Toulouse indicated that in the short time that Minister
Michael Bryant has been in office as Ontario Minister of Aboriginal Affairs he
has demonstrated a willingness to work with First Nations. However,
yesterday's court ruling clearly shows that much work remains in order to
genuinely change and improve the relationship between Ontario and First
Nations. "Recently, Minister Bryant and First Nations leaders in Ontario made
the negotiation process a successful alternative to the court process in
reaching a gaming agreement. This shows that with commitment, political will
and good faith, negotiation can work" stated Regional Chief Toulouse "but we
need to move beyond the rhetoric and the nice sounding words. The most recent
Ontario Speech from Throne made reference to developing a "better and improved
relationship with First Nations". What does a better and improved relationship
look like? We need to define this and actually make the necessary shift to
institute real change because it has not happened yet" said Chief Toulouse.
    First Nations leadership in Ontario will be meeting to discuss and
strategize next steps given the March 17, 2008 decision to sentence Chief
Morris and his Council members. "Our people are absolutely upset and
frustrated. Ontario cannot claim to be an innocent bystander in this while we
have leaders sitting in jail. It is incomprehensible and unjust" stated the
Regional Chief.





For further information:

For further information: Pam Hunter, (416) 597-1266 or Policy Advisor,
(613) 203-3233

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Chiefs of Ontario

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